Ghost, the open-source blogging system that raised over $300,000 on Kickstarter, launched to the public Monday.
Ghost has resonated with lots of users because of its promise of being a simple, forward-thinking publishing platform where users can just focus on writing, without all of the complications that more established platforms have in place.
See also: Is This Kickstarter Project the Future of Blogging?
Although every aspect of Ghost is open source, a hosted platform of the service will also be available for users who don't want to worry about configuring and maintaining a server.
The project first opened up to a small group of testers in August and to all Kickstarter backers in August. As of this writing, Ghost already has more than 31,000 downloads, 4,000 followers on GitHub and has amassed hundreds of thousands in page views in just the first two days of its launch.
We've got lots of thoughts on Ghost — and I'll be writing additional posts about the future plans and evolution of the platform later this week.
For now, let's focus on how regular users can get started with the platform now.
The first thing to know about Ghost is that for right now, the installation process requires a little more time and tech savvy than the average user may be accustomed. If you're used to the one-click install world of WordPress on a shared host, trying out Ghost at this time may not be for you.
Fortunately, there are a bunch of alternative ways to run and test Ghost. The first would be to use a VPS — or virtual private server — which allows users to control more of the software stack and have more resources on the system.
VPS plans range in price — and many providers sell VPS hosting for the same rate as a shared hosting plan. The big caveat is that this is unmanaged hosting, meaning the user is responsible for installing software and securing the environment. It also means most of the functions to access the web system will take place on the command line and not in a user-friendly control panel.
A good alternative for users who want to test Ghost out — but don't necessarily want to run it on a live web server — is to install it locally on their own computer.
The Ghost project has a really good installation guide and there are even pre-configured installers from BitNami that make it really easy to set up Ghost on your Mac or PC. This is the option I'd suggest to anyone who is not comfortable with playing around and learning more about working with a web server.
Using BitNami, you can even deploy Ghost to an Amazon EC2 instance for free or for very little money (think a few dollars a month at most for a test instance).
Ghost also has pre-configured images for a number of other VPS companies. Popular cloud host Rackspace has a Ghost Image that can be easily deployed to its cloud in seconds.
New York-based startup DigitalOcean — which bills itself as being an inexpensive and fast VPS host — also has a pre-configured Ghost Droplet that can be used on any of their size options. DigitalOcean's smallest plan is a 512MB VPS that is $5 a month, and that's plenty of RAM for running Ghost.
I've been testing DigitalOcean for the last few months and used it to set up my test Ghost blog at http://www.c-mac.me
Setting Up on DigitalOcean
Ghost's guide for DigitalOcean is fairly comprehensive, but there are a few steps that might not be well-understood by newer users.
Creating a new droplet (DigitalOcean speak for"server") using a pre-configured Ghost installation is simple. Simply choose the size of the droplet you want, choose your location (pick whatever is closest to you for best performance) and then in the applications tab, select Ghost 0.3.2 on Ubuntu.
Where it asks for a host name, you can either put the domain name (without the http) you want to use or give it a name that is a descriptor of the instance.
Click"create droplet"and in a few minutes, you'll get an email from DigitalOcean with your IP address for the instance and password for logging into the server from a command line (Terminal on OS X, something like PuTTY for Windows) or from the built-in terminal inside DigitalOcean's control panel.
If you don't want to use a domain name and are content with typing in your IP address to access Ghost, you can get started now.
Moving DNS Settings to DigitalOcean
After you set up the droplet, it's time to move your domain name's DNS settings to DigitalOcean.
The first thing you need to do is set up your domain name with DigitalOcean. If you already have a domain name you want to use, go to your domain registrar and change the name server settings to point to DigitalOcean.
Every registrar has a different way of setting up names servers, so look in the help documents at your registrar if you're confused. The important thing to know is that you want to change your name servers to:
Once you've done that, go back to your DigitalOcean control panel. Click on the DNS section and click"Add Domain."
Enter in your domain name in the name field and select your pre-existing droplet. That will automatically input the IP address and set up the domain name.
Within a few minutes, visiting your domain name should lead you with a"Welcome to Ghost"page on your web server.
Now visit yourdomain.com/ghost and you can create a new user account and start blogging!
Setting Up Mailgun on DigitalOcean
The one weak point with the Ghost installation process right now is mail set-up. Your web server needs to be able to send email because that's how Ghost can send you a new password if your forget yours.
For early testing, you won't need to necessarily set up mail on your server, but it's not a bad idea.
Ghost has a comprehensive guide to setting up email on Ghost and recommends using the service Mailgun. Mailgun is free for 10,000 emails a month — so, basically, enough for anyone.
I wholly recommend using Ghost's guide for setting up and configuring a Mailgun account to work with Ghost.
For DigitalOcean users, be aware that in my experience, it took quite some time (more than 12 hours) for the DNS mail settings to propagate and properly send mail from my Ghost installation.
If you need more help setting up email, visit the Ghost support forums and the website AllAboutGhost.com
Once you've got Ghost installed, you can jump in and start using the platform. A demo blog post is built-in to teach you how to use the dashboard (accessible at yourdomain.com/ghost). Ghost uses the Markdown syntax. If you're not familiar with Markdown (and you should —it's awesome!), check out our guide to a bevy of Markdown tools.
Right now, aside from customizing the header image and logo icon on the built-in theme (a very well crafted, minimal and responsive design dubbed"Casper"), there isn't much you can do aside from create blog posts.
As the writing interface goes, the two-paned preview system is really nice to look at.
To insert an image, simply type ! and in the preview pane, a draggable placeholder for your image will appear. Right now, there appears to be a size limitation on images of about 1MB, and that's a shame.
Ghost also doesn't auto save, so if you accidentally get punted to another page in your browser tab, pressing back will leave you with an empty post window. So save, and save often. You can see my test post here.
My only real feature request for Ghost would be to allow users to automatically create full sets of parenthesis and brackets for writing in Markdown. In other words, typing a""and put my text cursor inside the bracket pair.
Hey, Ghost guys and gals — look at Brett Terpstra's Markdown QuickTags for WordPress for some ideas.
Just the Beginning
Now is when the real fun starts for Ghost. The public launch means that anyone can play with the code, contribute to it on GitHub and run it on their own servers.
It's once developers and users start giving feedback, adding changes and building themes and plugins that the real potential of Ghost will start to come through.
If you're interested in trying a new blogging platform and are willing to roll up your sleeves, give Ghost a try.
Photo via Ghost; Screenshots via Ghost and DigitalOcean